2001 Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence,
Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
A critical evaluation of Neo-Liberalism and Gandhi’s economic theory as an alternative
Prof. Fatima Meer
Professor Fatima Meer, born and raised in Durban, was on the staff of the University of Natal from 1956 to 1988. She has held visiting professorships at a number of universities in South Africa, USA, India, Mauritius, the Caribbean, and Britain (11 universities including a fellowship at the London School of Economics). She was editor‑in‑chief of eighteen publications and she has written 21 books including: Portrait of Indian South Africans, Apprenticeship of a Mahatma, Race and Suicide in South Africa, Higher than Hope (the first authorized biography of Dr. Nelson Mandela ‑ published in 13 languages); The South African Gandhi: The Speeches and Writings of M.K. Gandhi. She has also written docu‑drama for television, and a full‑length film, The Making of the Mahatma, based on her book “The Apprenticeship of a Mahatma”, has been produced jointly by India and South Africa.
She is a founding member of the Institute for Black Research, a research organization to assist black South Africans, creating for them research, writing and support programmes of social reconstruction. She championed the cause of Human Rights, fought against the Apartheid, and led several protest marches for which she was arrested, jailed, and persecuted repeatedly by the Nationalist Government. She helped establish education trusts, scholarships, high schools and numerous literacy programmes in South Africa. She continues to be active in environmental issues, relief work and housing for flood victims.
Presented at McMaster University, Canada, 2 October 2001
My title, Gandhi: Today, Tomorrow and Everyday underlines that Gandhi has a timeless relevance. He predicted in the second quarter of the twentieth century that industrial capitalism governing the world would leave humanity in a soulless mess. By the end of the century his prediction had been realised. We had suffered two World Wars and were, until very recently, trapped in the Cold War between capitalism and communism, waged by the two superpowers in Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, destroying the life sources of these regions - roads, bridges, soil, fields, forests, etc., and killing millions of people.
Even as colonialism lost its functionality the money holders of the world had plotted an even more destructive economic system. The old capitalism had masqueraded as liberalism; the new masquerades as neo-liberalism and globalisation.
Globalisation is the restructuring of colonisation with far more dire consequences. It is the conversion of the vast sector of the human race, living mostly in the so-called Third World, into a global market for exploitation by the neo-capitalists, in the main, the G8 Nations. The decolonised has been re-colonised, this time round, not by "mother countries", but by "mother industries", a few multi-nationals whose sole interest is profit which it pursues licentiously with practically no restraints. After all, the earliest colonisers were trading companies, the Dutch East India and the British East India, not nation states, We are reverting to that situation.
Whereas the first capitalism, or "liberalism", was constrained by governments, neo-liberalism or globalisation subsumes governments and indeed the whole of society. It exploits freely, without any restraints, neither of governments nor of any moral order. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank invented at the end of World War Two to rescue and revive European and Japanese Economies, today prey on "Third World" governments in particular and bend them to their economic policies that are anti-democracy, anti-poor, anti-humanity, focussed on securing giant corporations their monopolistic profits.
George Soros, from within the capitalist rank, confirms this when he states; "The protection of the common interest used to be the task of the nation state. But the powers of the state have shrunk as global capital markets have expanded. When capital is free to move around it will avoid any state that seeks to impose taxes and regulations. Since capital is essential to the creation of social goals, governments must cater to its demands often to the detriments of social goals. This holds true for all governments, even the United States." [World Affairs, Vol.5, No.1, p.30, New Delhi, 110024, India]
So capital governs, and the global capitalists lay down the policy to exploit and plunder the world regardless of the destruction to nature or humanity. Any government desiring foreign capital has to submit to this policy, which, like colonialism, is a one way traffic of resources plundered and transferred from the poor to the rich; from the south, from Africa, Asia and South America, to the North - Europe, the UK, the USA, Japan and Canada. It is, in turn, the sale of manufactured goods and machinery to the former colonies, the “Third World", at exorbitant prices, made more exorbitant by the devaluation of indigenous currencies.
Globalisation is reduced to a single component, trade, with its global media that fashions the tastes of the world and manipulates the market. The main orchestrator and beneficiary of this process is the USA which enjoys 50% of the world market in many industries; controls more than half of the world business activity, and two-thirds of advertising and marketing services. Globalisation is essentially Americanisation.
Soros informs us that "capitalism is very successful in creating wealth" and Felix Yurlov expands on this when he reports that the world's per capita income tripled in the last 50 years, that the world GDP grew ten fold - from $30 million to $30 billion. That revenue from the entertainment and book business grew "from $67 billion in 1970, to $200 billion in 1991, (the USA being the chief beneficiary and the biggest exporter, with fifty percent of the revenue of Hollywood coming from overseas). Cultural products move in a one-way stream, from the rich to the poor."
But all this wealth has not benefited the world because of its globalisation, that is, concentration among a few nations and the abject deprivation of the vast majority.
The peoples of the world have never been as divided in their standards of living in the entire history of the human race as today. Globalisation has produced more inequality than ever before. The assets of the three richest countries in the world today are greater than the combined GNP of the 48 least-developed countries.
The rich countries enjoy 60% of the world's GNP but have only 15% of the world population. In 1960, 20% of the world's richest countries had 30 times the incomes of the poorest 20%; in 1997, 74 times.
The gap between the world's richest and poorest countries has doubled in the last 50 years. It was 3:1 in 1820, 11:1 in 1913, 35:1 in 1950 and 72:1 in the nineties.
World poverty is escalating, as is too unemployment with one third of the world's labour force being unemployed or underemployed.
Added to this, the southern non-European countries are heavily indebted to the northern European, through loans their leaders were seduced into taking. While the initial capital on the loans have been paid several times over, the interest payment continues ad nauseam and international calls to cancel these unfair debts continue to be ignored, the USA being the main obstacle. In practically every case, there is pressure on the creditors to give priority to servicing their debts at the cost of such primary needs as education, health and welfare.
Poverty is not the problem in the Third World alone, even within rich countries, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer. In the USA the income of the poorest 20% has steadily declined since the 1970s while that of the rich 20% has increased by 15% and the top 1% percent by more than 100%.
Mikhail Gorbachev sums up the present situation as a failure, once again, of world leaders to learn from the errors of the past. "We had indeed a truly big opportunity resulting from the ending of the Cold War and stopping the confrontation between the military blocs ... In my assessment we were not able to use these opportunities in a proper way, and I am using very mild wording here. Resources freed from fuelling the arms race could have been used against poverty, underdevelopment, and diseases in the vast regions of the world where the bulk of the world population is concentrated, "
Globalisation continues we are told, because of its success at money making, but even this is not true. George Soros informs us that it is not the wealth-producing factory it is made out to be. He tells us: "Global financial markets are inherently unstable." So, apart from its enormous potential for plaguing the world with every conceivable misery, globalisation is not even the wealth-churning wizard it is made out to be.
Globalisation, far from promoting human rights, actually creates conditions for their violation. Soros states: "Free competition creates and reinforces inequalities both on the national and the international level and collective interests ranging from the preservation of peace to the protection of human rights and the environment receive shot shrift" .
He correctly observes "capitalism and political freedom do not necessarily go hand in hand. Capitalism is very successful in creating wealth but it does not assure freedom, social justice and the rule of law, it is not designed to safeguard universal principles" and concludes, "While we can speak of the triumph of capitalism we cannot yet speak of the triumph of democracy. If we care about universal values such as freedom and democracy, we cannot leave them to the care of market forces." I choose to quote Soros because he is at the heart of globalisation.
Nonetheless, he is concerned and asks, "How can the needs of a global society be reconciled with the sovereignty of states?" He correctly observes that the United Nations "is ill-suited to safeguard universal principles because it is subject to the whims of its members.”
He proposes the international rule of law which, he states, could work with the help of civil society. "It may be true that States have no principles, but democratic States are responsive to the wishes of their citizens. If the citizens have principles, they can impose them on their governments. That is why we need the active engagement of civil society in support of international law."
This is the Gandhian solution, Satyagraha, of civil society which is already manifesting itself in the campaigns against globalisation. This campaign is becoming internationalised as the poor, joined by the conscience-stricken members of the First World, unite to bring down parasitic globalisation through sheer soul force.
Globalisation creates wealth, it does not distribute it. It hoards it, as power, to dominate and destroy those who stand in its path. Our evolution has become warped, we appear to be reverting to the beast. We are barely recognisable as the humans we were in pre-capitalist times.
The USA dominates the global economic process; American foreign policy is committed to maintaining that dominance, and has done so hitherto through violence. What is the difference between an attack by terrorists which leaves death and destruction, and an attack by a well-heeled, uniformed army which leaves death and destruction?
The world's high consumers are also the world's high destroyers of our natural resources. They are responsible for our current environmental crisis, which, apart from the depletion of forests and pollution of rivers, impoverishment of soils through the dumping of pesticides and fertilisers (banned in the West), on the unsuspecting for huge profits, are threatening such calamities as ozone depletion and global warming which threaten to melt the ice caps and submerge coastal cities and cause massive displacements of populations on scales never known before. This in turn can result in new waves of racial, ethnic and political problems worse than anything we have yet experienced; all so that a few may profit
The neo-liberals are so obsessed with immediate gains that they do not even care if they denude the universe and leave nothing, even for their own biological heirs.
The USA is the most serious global polluter but it refuses to reduce its carbon emissions to the limits set by the Kyoto Protocol and has actually increased it in her greedy pursuit of capital and her determination to be the world's leader regardless of the fact that it is a Satanic leadership.
Domination through Ideas
Ultimately we are dominated through ideas and ideas emanating from the West have insinuated themselves into the rest of the world in the last one-and-a-half centuries, through colonisation, and now far more massively and intrusively through globalisation.
We humans are not born with instincts, we respond to ideas and the ideas are constituted into material "realities". Like the architect who draws a plan and executes it into a Taj Mahal or the Empire State Building, so ideas are constituted into social, economic and religious institutions. We are susceptible to the ideas of those who have dominion over us. As colonised people we grew ashamed of our own ideas, ideas enunciated by our own seers and philosophers, we suppressed them, devalued them, short of throwing them into the refuse bin, and took on the ideas of our colonisers. In Africa we suppressed our traditional beliefs that linked us to our fellow-beings and to nature and God. We have become creatures of capitalism and communism. We accepted the notion that these "isms” define the truth of our existence. But basically we accepted them because they came from our dominators, the successful colonisers, the masters of the First World. We became focussed on the here and the now, on the material, the evidential. However, more convincing, more comforting, our own ideas, drawn from our own traditions, our own antiquities, we abandoned them for the foreign and European. We need to retrace our steps and recover our moral systems; we need to resurrect God whom they effectively killed yet again in the 1970's and recover Him/Her, so that our social systems are answerable to the Divine as they are intended to be, and not to vicissitudes of the market.
The exploiters, on their part, having killed God, have produced their own theodicies to sanctify their exploitation. The Protestant Ethic turned the Gospel upside down and the poor from being celebrated became damned, their poverty a sign of their damnation: the wealthy from being damned became saved, their wealth being a sign of their election to God's grace. The Darwinian thesis of the survival of the fittest, pits humans in a war of destructive competition in which only the best survive (the global gobblers being the best), and merit the fruits of the earth. The rest, the masses, the failures, the poor are the wretched of the earth deserving of their wretchedness.
Both theories justify colonialism and colonial exploitation. They not only salve the conscience of the rich and the powerful, but legitimate their exploitation with “evidence” that they were "naturally" selected or “divinely” selected to dominate and appropriate the resources of the colonised which were wasted on them since they did not know how to use them. In both theodicies the poor are the refuse of the earth, unworthy and justifiably marginalised.
These theories developed in the west divide humanity and in that division, breed inequality, violence, and the preying of the strong on the weak. Marx contributes his own divisive thesis, the irresolvable conflict between classes, between capital and labour, the dominance of the one depending on the elimination of the other.
Not only do these theories divide people from each other, they also divide the person against him or herself. Capitalism has no use for the soul; it rips it out of the body and discards it as useless, as indeed it is to capitalism. Not being material, it is unexploitable! The body consumes, and it can be manipulated to have an insatiable appetite. It will consume everything the neo-capitalists invent and put on the market. The body is the market. The multi-nationals clothe it, feed it, take it on holidays, inject it with drugs, clean it with ever new brands of soaps, toothpastes and shampoos and seduce it with scents and cosmetics; they tempt it with millions of ever changing newer products - the market is endless.
Capitalism has no use for God either. The morality that comes with God and soul can only impede its progress, and introduce troublesome obstacles in the form of a conscience. Both God and soul are thus murdered and cleared out of its way.
We tolerate the excesses of the immoral, inhuman, ruthlessly exploitative globalisation because we are bamboozled into believing that there is no alternative. I have had intellectuals arguing "this is the only way. You can’t fight it as if globalisation is a God-given natural truth like the law of gravity and we are inherently controlled by it." We submit to the tyranny of globalisation, despite the fact that we know better, being heirs to the God-inspired truths communicated to us through generations of Prophets. We accept the Adam Smith doctrine that the human is impelled by self-interest, and is naturally selfish and self-oriented, and society is the construct of selfish interests. We do so despite our theological teachings that the human being is fashioned in the image of God, that he pursues God and goodness.
Marxism became very influential and popular in many of the colonies seeking liberation and so did Gandhism.
Gandhi's Critique of Industrialism
Gandhi is probably the first serious critique of industrialism, his critique being based on both moral and economic grounds.
Gandhi's reaction against industrialisation, was basically on account of the inequalities it bred, and the unemployment it created
He was anti-machine to the extent that it did not benefit all alike but rather resulted in a few exploiting the many and creating unemployment. Mechanical power, in his view, deprived man of his God-given means to livelihood. Mechanical power he emphasised is justified only if it does not result in unemployment. Gandhian economics demands full employment, contending that man lives by his labour and when his labour is taken away from him he does not live at all, materiality or spirituality.
For Gandhi, the Supreme consideration is man - machine should not have ascendancy over him. 'It is beneath human dignity to lose ones individuality and become a mere cog in the machine, I want every individual to become a full-blooded, full developed member of society."
Full employment, he believed, could only be achieved if "the means of production of elementary necessities of life remain in the control of the masses The disease of the masses," he said, "Is not want of money so much as it is want of work.”
"Machinery has its place," he conceded, "but it must not be allowed to displace the necessary human labour. Men go on saving labour till thousands are without work and thrown on the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind but, for all, I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few but in the hands of all."
"Machinery,1t he held, "merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions."
Central to Gandhi's economics is self-sufficiency. He opposed industrialisation because he foresaw the excesses it would lead to, nibbling away at the soul of man and eventually leaving him soulless, without conscience or fellow feeding. He drew a parallel between urbanisation and where the city exploited the village, and colonisation, where the country lived on the resources of another. His remedy in both instances is self-sufficiency, not dependancy on foreign trade, or foreign investments. He saw real planning as the best utilisation of the whole manpower of India and the distribution of raw products of India in her numerous villages instead of sending them outside and re-buying finished articles at fabulous prices.
He would thus be totally opposed to globalisation for it deprives people of self-sufficiency and independence and converts them into clients of the multi-nationals.
Industrialisation was expected to enrich the world. The reverse has happened. Pre-industrial humanity enjoyed a greater sense of well being than post industrial. It is this fact that led Gandhi to view the rural area the village as the preserver of human values and thus the fulcrum of his society. He saw the village as the place of the Truth he sought.
The problem of industrialism was its centralisation, of machines in factories, of power in the boss. He supported decentralisation and small communities where relations were personal, and values kept alive by interpersonal contact and guidance. Gandhi saw India destroyed through industriali-sation. His sarvodaya was thus a confederation of small interdependent communities, each self-sufficient in itself and thus not beholden to the other.
He saw the village as the anchor of democracy and the villager the ideal man. “Take away his chronic poverty and his illiteracy you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated free citizen should be."
While this hankering after the rural is impractical, what Gandhism is promoting here is the small group, personalised living, so that the human can be rescued from the anonymity of mass society and be more in control of himself. His emphasis should be seen generally on the small manageable group rater than specifically on the villages.
Gandhi is against the centralisation of power and saw that as resulting in domination and elimination of small collectives, small societies, small countries. Where western philosophers divide, Gandhi unites both on social and personal levels. He returns us to ourselves and to God. Where capitalism focuses on the material exploitable body, Gandhi focuses on the soul, the source of personal power. Where neo-liberals pursue unlimited profits, unrestrained by any rules (their definition of the freedom of the market and a free society), Gandhi places us securely in the embrace of God and therein lies our unity as a human race.
We are born equal, children of the one and only God, equally entitled to all His resources. Gandhi's equality does not trespass on individuality. He states: "While we are born equal, meaning we have a right to equal opportunity, all have not the same capacity. It is in the nature of things impossible. Some will have ability to earn more, others less... I would allow a man of intellect to earn more, I would not cramp his talent, but the bulk of his greater earnings must be used for the good of the state. They would have their earnings only as trustees."
The society he offers, Sarvodaya, is also rooted in divinity. He defines man (and woman) as "a special creation of God. Man is not a brute. His distinguishing characteristic is self-restraint. Man has reason, discrimination and free will. He uses his reason to worship God", which, in the Gandhian concept, "is to live in terms of the moral order, God's order."
This is a distinctly different view of man from Adam Smith's self-centred, selfish man, whose sole purpose is to satiety his self-centred material needs.
We have a choice between Gandhi's idea of ourselves and Adam Smith's. As ideas, they are completely comparable. Adam Smith's idea works for the rich and a powerful, Gandhi's strike an equilibrium between the rich and poor and place them on the same level in respect to human rights, for rights appertain to the inner soul; not to the outer trappings, the material body. True power resides in the soul as does too faith; two essential life principles which can never be found in the body. It is faith that relates the human to God and it is soul force that endows the apparently weak with power to overcome material tyranny. Satyagraha is soul force born of faith.
Gandhi states: "The Divine powers within us are infinite. The aim of life is to serve God. The soul's natural progress is towards selflessness and purity. Man's ultimate aim is the realisation of God and all his activities, social, political, religious have to be guided by the ultimate vision of God. Serving others is part of this endeavour. The only way to find God, is to serve others. Man is not at peace with himself until he has become like unto God."
Here is the strong imperative to bond with one’s fellow being, for the strong to help and raise the weak.
God, Man and Trusteeship
Starting out with a concept of human personality as divinely orientated, he spins a thesis of hope, hope in our capacity to change and be changed in our persons and in society. Conflicts are never irresolvable since we are all cut from the same cloth, differences can be resolved; we are all inherently good and naturally orientated to the same goal, God realisation, or treading a moral path. From this flows his economic theory. Since God's resources are never alienated from Him, no individual person can own them. The ownership remains with God and those who acquire riches merely hold them in trust for God, to be shared equitably by all humanity.
This leads him to his economic system of trusteeship. Gandhi acknowledges private property but strictly in the context that it is a trust bequeathed by God, to be used for His purpose, and His purpose is that it is shared equally among all His people.
Gandhi does not see an irrecoverable conflict between capital and labour. They can be made partners in the business they conduct in their different capacities.
"Trusteeship provides a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one. lt gives no quarter to capitalism, but gives the present owning class a chance of reforming itself; It is based on the faith that human nature is never beyond redemption. It does not recognise any right of private ownership except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare."
Addressing the mill-owners of Ahmedabad, he states: "What I expect of you is that you should hold all your riches as a trust to be used solely in the interest of those who sweat for you, and to whose industry and labour you owe all your position and prosperity. I want you to make your labourers co-partners of your wealth. If conflict between capital and labour is to be avoided, as I feel it can and must be, labour should have the same status and dignity as capital ... you must consider every labourer as equal with you and as your blood brother." [The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Navajivan Press]
"It does not exclude legislation regulations of the ownership and use of wealth. Thus under state - regulated trusteeship an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society."
He recommends the fixing of both a minimum wage and a maximum income allowed to a person.
"Earn your crores but understand that your wealth is not your's, it belongs to the people," he warns the wealthy. (crore = 10 million)
While conceding private enterprise he sets limits to the employer's portion. The rich man may take 5% or 10%, or 15% but not 85%. He would certainly revive these figures to accord to today's standards where astronomical amounts remain concentrated in a few hands.
He saw the capitalist as dispensable but the worker was the core of society. This is in sharp contrast to globalisation which weakens the worker and makes him dispensable and replaceable with technological innovations and which strives to eliminate his bargaining power by getting rid of trade unions if possible. For Gandhi, machinery and technology have no right to exist if they invade the rights of workers.
To workers, Gandhi said "I would ask you to regard yourselves as trustees for the nation for which you are labouring. A nation may do without its mill owners and without its capitalists but a nation can never do without its labour."
"I am trusting those people who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e. owners not in their own right, but owners in the right of those whom they have exploited." He suggests that a man earning R 100 should give R 50 to his worker but the very wealthy, should keep 1% and share the rest.
"Trusteeship is his alternative to socialism which would do away with the privileged class. His solution is, the wealthy must outgrow their greed and sense of possession, for it is a false sense since in reality nothing belong to them; everything belongs to God.”
Gandhi does not leave the constitution of his socialism (sarvodaya) to friendly persuasion. He calls in revolution - Satyagraha, by civil society and state control.
“As for the present owners of wealth, they will have to make their choice between class war and voluntarily converting themselves into trustees of their possessions and to use their talent to increase wealth for the sake of the nation, and therefore without exploitation."
"The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor. They (the poor) must free themselves from the crushing inequalities, what belongs to those with wealth belongs to the community." This is an exhortation to the poor to take action.
“But if they fail, I believe we shall have to deprive them of their possessions through the state with the minimum exercise of violence. Every vested interest must be subjected to scrutiny and confiscation ordered where necessary with or without compensation as the case demanded."
Our problem today is not a question of insufficient resources - we have enough resources. The problem is that these are appropriated by a few multi-national companies and their shareholders. Almost a century ago Gandhi said "there is enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed." There are far more resources today than ever before in human history and despite the fact that there are far more people dependant on them than ever before, our capacity to produce more than out-strips our population growth. Our problem is not resources; our problem is distribution of resources equitably, to service need and not greed. Unfortunately, the focus is on greed, and greed is insatiable.
It would be a grave mistake to discuss Gandhi as esoteric, not of this world, impractical. This is the kind of propaganda on which those who reduce us to body and reject our soul, our conscience, our moral dimension, would have us believe. Gandhi, though involved with God, that is a divine moral law, is like God of this world.
“Life for me is real as I believe it to be a spark of the Divine. The world is the playground of God and a reflection of His glory. God manifests Himself in innumerable forms in this universe, and every such manifestation commands my spontaneous reverence." God remains involved with the world and is not exclusively "other worldly", even as Gandhi is not exclusively "other worldly". Just as he is involved with God, God is involved with him and with the world in general. He is here, not there.
"In this ocean of life, we are little drops. My doctrine means that I must identify myself with life, with everything that lives, that I must share the majesty of life in the presence of God. The sum total of this life is God."
God is manifested in all His Creations, especially in man, God's highest creation.
There is the stark reality of a violent world on the one hand, and Gandhi's offer of ahimsa - peace, love, non-violence. Do we have the courage to embrace God? Embrace ahimsa or will we remain victims of war and violence. We, as civil society, must harness our forces in Satyagraha and coerce our government when they stray from the course of human rights to return and re-commit themselves to those rights to justice, peace and the elimination of poverty. We must overcome the evils of globalisation.
We cannot tolerate the division of our unique Mother Earth into three worlds, the polarization of her peoples between the rich and poor. Such polarization breeds violence, breeds war, breeds genocide, breeds terrorism. Islam did not inflict the twin tower terrorism - poverty, inequality, the arrogance and flagrant tyranny of the powerful over the weak, the rich over the poor, did.
Look into your hearts, examine your souls for the cause.